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Holiday gift guide: Outdoors photographer

Colin
November 20, 2017

It’s an affliction that every photographer suffers from, we love gear. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera lens or a headlamp, we’re like bees to honey when it comes to gadgets.

For me and a ton of other photographers, it’s not just camera gear we lust after, it’s the other stuff we use out shooting. Whether it be the 20-mile hike to that epic sunset location, or killing time during a long airport layover there is always something that can make you more comfortable. For me, considering most of what I do takes me far from civilization here’s a few things I’d be stoked to unwrap this year.

Cotopaxi Tikal Active Shell

If you spend any amount of time outside, you’re going to get wet it’s just a fact of life and a good rain jacket is essential. Cotopaxi’s Tikal Active Shell is made from fully taped, 2.5-layer water-resistant shell fabric with four-way stretch that will keep the water out.

It’s got a spacious hood and the jacket packs down to just about nothing, and there’s also full YKK Zippers, perforated underarm panels so you won’t overheat that are less bulky than pit zips and it weighs just 283g.

Cotopaxi Tikal Active Shell US$139 / AU$184

Goal Zero Venture 30

With phones, cameras, headlamps and even headphones needing batteries these days having a portable power pack is becoming essential. Goal Zero is arguably the biggest name in this market and the Venture 30 is one of its most popular power banks.

It’s waterproof, has an emergency light and a built-in micro USB cable. There are even little adaptors for camera charges and laptops and it can be charged using the brands Nomad Solar panels or from a power outlet.

Goal Zero Venture 30 US$139.99 / AU$178.98

JBL Flip 4 Bluetooth Speaker

Sometimes a campsite or a day at the beach needs some tunes, and the JBL Flip 4 is a compact reachable Bluetooth speaker. It’s water resistant (IPX7) and sees and features like voice assistant integration so you can use Siri through the speaker. What’s better, it also allows you to connect multiple devices and alternate which device it’s playing from so that everybody can pick a song.

JBL Flip 4 Speaker US$99.99 / AU$128

Garmin Fenix 5

Garmin’s Fenix 3 is the ultimate Ron Swanson approved manly smartwatch. It does everything a watch does, but with built-in GPS, and ABC (alto, barro, compass)  it can record your hike, help you navigate both directionally and topographically and let you know if there’s a storm coming.

The watch is also Bluetooth enabled meaning you can export your activities to Strava wirelessly and download apps from the Connect IQ store, there’s everything from detailed weather forecasts to sunrise and sunset times and it’s got wrist-based heart rate too. It’s like a swiss army knife for your wrist.

Garmin Fenix 5 US$599 / AU$789

Petzl – REACTIK+ 300 Lumens Headlamp

Petzl’s REACTIK headlamp, along with a space blanket and pocket knife are all things that never leave my camera bag.

Being outside you never know when you’re going to get stuck in the dark, and having a decent light source on hand has saved me more than once. This little light packs a 300-lumen punch and can be set to change its brightness based on the ambient light to maximize battery life. You can also connect it to your phone to see remaining battery life and change the light mode in real time.

Petzl’s REACTIK headlamp US$109.95 / AU$200

Smartwool Merino 150 Boxers

Bear with me when I say merino wool undies are one of the greatest things on earth. Not only does the soft material cradle your undercarriage nicely, they don’t chafe or smell. An especially nice feature after three or four days camping or a long haul flight from Dallas to Brisbane. They’re a little pricey but worth every penny!

Smartwool Merino 150 Boxers US$49 / AU$60

SOG Aegis Assisted Folding Knife

 

A high-quality pocket knife is something everyone should have. Once you get an EDC knife, you’ll be amazed how often you actually use it and wonder how you got by without it! You also don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great knife. The Sog Aegis Assisted open folding knife has a 3.5in straight edge blade and sees the brands assisted open technology.

The blade itself is made from high-quality AUS-8 steel and gets a black TiNi finish.

Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffel Bag

Patagonia’s Black Hole duffels are nearly military grade. Whether it be remiss baggage handlers, or dogs who’re confused what’s a chew toy and what’s a bag, this duffel will keep your belongings safe, dry, and organized. I’ve got one and after a rough life, it still looks brand new!!

Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffel Bag US$129 / AU$169

AeroPress Coffee Maker

There are few things better in this world than crawling out of a tent and brewing a hot cup’o Joe. The AeroPress system is like a french press but way more portable and makes fantastic coffee in a couple of minutes. What’s better it’s super portable and easy to clean.

AeroPress Coffee Maker US$29 / AU$49

MSR Pocket Rocket 2


When climbing out of said tent and brewing that cup’o Joe, you’re going to need to heat up some water. MSR’s Pocket Rocket is pretty much the smallest lightest stove you can buy and is claimed to boil a liter of water in 3.5min.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 US$44 / AU$107.95

Yeti Rambler Lowball

Now you’ve got your coffee brewed and the scenery is sorted you’re going to need a receptacle to drink from. Yeti is known for making hard-wearing functional gear and the Rambler is no exception. It’s vacuum sealed and will keep your coffee warm (or another beverage cold) for hours, and of course, because it’s not made of plastic there’s no risk of BPA or other nasties.

Yeti Rambler Lowball US$19.99 / 24.94

Don’t forget to check out my 12 Gift ideas for photographers

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13 Gift Ideas for Photographers

Colin
November 13, 2017

Photographers are a hard bunch to buy for because we lust after gear that costs thousands of dollars. What’s worse is there’s so much photography speak involving dynamic range, bokeh, F-stops, chromatic aberration, and it all sounds like gibberish to the uninitiated.

To help you cut through all the BS I’ve put together a short guide of gift ideas for photographers that are sure to make the shooter in your life smile (hint, hint, nudge nudge).

Mindshift Backlight

 

Mindshifts Backlight is the perfect pack for the adventure photographer. The back panel access pack comes in 26L and 36L sizes and has plenty for Pro size DSLR bodies and lenses as well as room for extra layers, snacks, and even dedicated compartments to carry a 15in laptop and full-size tablet.

Mindshift Backlight 26L US$249 / AU$362

Mindshift Backlight 36L US$289 / AU$379

DJI Mavic Pro

Drones are all the rage at the moment and they allow for some truly unique imagery. The Mavic Pro is pretty much the end all be all with a three-axis gimbal stabilized 12mp / 4k camera, follow me modes, collision avoidance and so much more a whirlybird from DJI will put a smile on any giftee’s face.

DJI Mavic ProUS $999 / AU$1,599

Fstoppers Flash Disc (FS FlashDisc) Portable Speedlight Softbox

 

fstoppers-flash-disc

Portable light modifiers that don’t suck are few and far between. Because of their size quite often modifiers that will fit in your backpack just are not big enough to defuse the light from a flash very well, but an exception to that rule are the FStoppers Flash Discs. I have two which never leave my bag because they’re lightweight, pack down to just about nothing and work surprisingly well. They have their limitations but can be put onto any Speedlight and are extremely portable.

Fstoppers Flash Disc US$50 / AU$66

Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Rain Cover

Vortex-Media-Pro-Storm-Jacket-Rain-Cover

Like with flash modifiers, rain covers for cameras are extremely bulky. You could argue they should always be with you, but sometimes there just is not enough room in your bag for something that packs down to nearly the size of a telephoto lens. The solution is the Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Rain Covers!

Made from rip-stop nylon it’s essentially a tube your camera and lens goes inside that you cinch down on either side. Weighing all of 70g, they come in a variety of sizes and colors, I have two a medium and XL and that covers all of my lenses – I’ve even used them to cover off camera lights too. They’re not the ideal solution when it’s raining cats and dogs, but for inclement weather, you’ll be glad you have them

Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Rain Cover starting at US$50 / AU$65

Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket

Think-Tank-Pixel-Pocket-Rocket

Keeping memory cards organized is a royal pain in the ass, and they have the uncanny ability to find every hard to reach nook and cranny inside your bag.

The Think Thank Pixel Pocket Rocket is a small card wallet designed to stip cards from disappearing into the deep dark depths of your bag. It can hold up to 10 cards (SD and CF) and the outside is made with DWR treated ripstop nylon, so even if you get caught in a rainstorm your media stands a chance of staying dry. What’s better is it comes in bright color combos that you can easily spot in even the messiest camera bag. There’s also a strap which can be clipped to your belt or the inside of your camera bag for a bit of added peace of mind.

If you  to buy the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket, and you spend $50 or more you’ll receive free shipping and a free gift courtesy of Think Tank

If you click through to Think Tank with as THIS LINK, you’ll get to choose a free gift at checkout when you spend more than $50

Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket US$19.95 / AU$21

Giottos AA1903 Rocket Air Blaster Large

Nothing can ruin an awesome shot faster than a dirty lens, and camera lenses seem to be a magnet for dust and dirt.

The best way to get rid of these pesky particles is to blow them away with a sharp blast of air, and the best tool for the job is the Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster. There are plenty of these handheld air puffers available, but what sets the Rocket Blaster apart is the one-way valve which prevents it from inhaling dust and puffing it back onto your gear.

Giottos AA1903 Rocket Air Blaster Large US$12 / AU$20

LensCoat Lens Cover for Canon 100-400 IS II (Real Tree Max4)

LensCoat-Canon-100-400-IS-II

If you know me, you know I love camo. I can’t explain it (maybe it’s because I’m a little bit red neck), but I just do. So Lens Coat’s neoprene lens covers were a no-brainer for my telephoto lenses. Not only does it look cool, it provides a bit of added protection for your $2000+ lens. The neoprene covers offer a bit of impact protection and also insulate the lens from extreme temps and a bit of moisture and dust.

They come in a variety of colors other than camo, and just about every lens on the market. Even more, if they don’t make a cover for your lens, they’ll make you a custom cover!

Pricing varies depending on lens and color

 Data Color Spyder5Pro

 

If you’re printing photos, having a color calibrated screen is extremely important otherwise it’s a shot in the dark as to what your photos will actually look like.

The Spyder5Pro is a relatively inexpensive way to make sure the colors on your computer screen are true. I use the exact device,  and it’s as simple as having it from your screen pressing play and following a few prompts.

Data Color Spyder5Pro US$189 / AU$220

Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader

Lexar-Professional-USB-3.0-Dual-Slot-Reader

Some card readers make you want to bang your head on our desk. They usually have 70 different ports for cards that haven’t been used in 20 years but won’t transfer more 20 photos from an SD card without dropping out and the pins and contacts will fail after only a few uses.

Lexar’s Pro USB reader is an inexpensive and extremely reliable alternative to these fury inducing units. It has a slot for a CF and SD card, utilizes and fast USB 3.0 connection, and its pop-up design keeps dust out of the slots (my favourite part).

Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader US$45 / AU$59

 Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Noise cancelling headphones

I think everyone should have a good set of headphones. Between travelling and working and sometimes you need to be able to drown everything else out and focus.

I myself have a set of these noise cancelling headphones and they are the first thing I stuff into my camera bag when I’m headed to the airport. They are super comfy and I’ve worn them the entirety of international long-haul flights and long days at the computer working to a deadline.

 Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Noise cancelling headphones US$349 / AU$499

Phottix Odin II TTL Flash Trigger

Camera Hacks: Phottix Odin Wireless Shutter Release

The Phottix Odin II triggers are my radio triggers of choice. The reason being, they just work! I’ve never had any issues with misfires, they’re easy to use and offer advanced features like high-speed sync and rear curtain sync. They are also backwards compatable and will work with the older Odin triggers.

Phottix Odin TTL Flash Trigger for Canon US$210 / AU$365

Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART DG HSM Lens for Canon

Sigma-35mm-F1.4 ART

Lenses are super expensive, and for the most part, you get what you pay for. However, Sigma’s 35mm F1.4 ART has proved to be a workhorse lens, and at half the price of the Canon version, it demonstrates a fantastic performance to price ratio.

It’s sharp, fast focusing and does a pretty good bokeh and has accompanied me to everything from the Tour Down Under to the One Hit Wonder Big Air.

Check out my first impressions of the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART

Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART DG HSM Lens US$899 / AU$942

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body

Canon-EOS-5D-Mark-IV

On the extravagant side of the spectrum is the Canon 5d Mark IVCanon’s 5D series of cameras are workhorses for photographers the world over, and the Mark IV is the latest edition the range. Taking 30-megapixel images and a burst rate of 7fps is ideal for landscape and action photographers alike. It’s also got built-in Wifi, a touch screen, dual pixel focusing and majorly improved dynamic range.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body US$3,599 / AU$4,788

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Lens Coat Review

Colin
May 31, 2017

It’s no secret that camera gear is not light on your wallet, and for me personally, it gets knocked around a fair bit. Whether it be rain, sleet, snow, hail, dents, scratches, drops and everything else, it’s all part of being an outdoor photographer. Unfortunately, when your camera gear swings around your shoulder and bangs into something it sends your heart into your throat and might empty your bank account.

With this in mind, any little bit of extra protection you can get, without sacrificing functionality is important. Enter the Lens Coat Lens cover.

Basically, the Lens Coat Cover is a closed cell neoprene tube cut specifically to the shape and size of your lens. They’re available for pretty much any lens you can come up with, including rare finds like the Canon EF 1200, and come in a wide variety of colours.

I’ve got one of these sets for my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, and considering the price of this lens, it was a no-brainer for me.

Not only does the neoprene cover help to protect the lens from cosmetic damage, it offers a small degree of impact protection too. No, it’s not going to save your lens from a fall off your desk, but when your camera inevitable swings around your body as you lean over it will soften the blow.

Because Neoprene isn’t a great temperature conductor it makes your setup easier to handle in weather extremes. Canon’s L series telephoto lenses are largely constructed of metal, and it’s not uncommon for them to be almost too hot or too cold to touch depending on where you’re shooting. On more than one occasion the metal parts on my Canon 100-400 have been uncomfortably hot or cold to touch with a bare hand, but the Lens Coat provides some insulation from that punishment.

Because any lens on the outside is a series of rings, the cover itself is cut into pieces sized perfectly for the sections on your lens. To make the neoprene into a tube, flat pieces are  stitched together and given how tight they fit on the lens it’s a wonder I haven’t blown a seam yet. The upside to this tight fit is that they’re not going to be slipping and sliding around on the lens as you’re using the zoom or focus rings. As to not cover up the autofocus and IS switching there is a PVC window that lines up perfectly with the panel and allows them to be moved without moving the cover out of the way.

A small oversight is the lack of a cutout on the lens hood section for this particular lens. The ET-83D lens hood that comes with the 100-400ii has a sliding door so that you can easily rotate polarising filters, but the lens coat covers this section up. While it does cause a minor annoyance,  I’m not sure how lens coat would solve this as to put a cutout here would definitely hurt the structural integrity of the cover. To get around this I just roll the neoprene up a little bit.

Given that Neoprene is made from rubber, the Lens Coat also offers a bit of water protection too. You’re still going to want a proper rain cover if the weather really turns sour given there are gaps in the cover and you’re still going to waterlog your lens, but in light snow or rain, it will keep most of the moisture off your lens.

The other small issue I’ve had with the Lens Coat is it adds a bit of bulk to your lens, and if you store lens hoods upsidedown on the lens it doesn’t prevent the lens from retracting fully, which means it takes up a bit more room in your bag. You can force it, but it put a but too much pressure on the hood mount for my liking.

They also are not cheap, priced at US$80, but in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay for a bit of added protection for on a $2000+ lens. Overall they are not an accessory I would buy for every lens I own, but for some of the larger ones, I think they are a smart purchase.

Where to buy:

LensCoat lc1004002m4 Lens Cover for Canon 100-400 IS II (Real Tree Max4)

 

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First Look: Mindshift rotation180 Horizon 34L

Colin
March 8, 2017

Camera backpacks can be a pain, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. They’re bulky, they don’t always fit very well, hence why photo megastar Chris Burkhard avoided using them (skip to 1:40 for the explanation) until Mountain Smith designed him one. Most of all, if your gear is in your bag, getting to it quickly is a problem. Bag brands are continually trying to find new ways for photographers to carry, and more importantly, access their gear, and there have been some innovations beyond the simple camera strap, like the Peak Design Capture Pro. But, for the most part quickly getting to your gear ain’t easy.

For quite some time, in my opinion, rear access packs have been the best option for my style of photography. Usually, they are big, sturdy and the packs themselves are designed around being outdoors and carrying lots of gear comfortably with load lifters, internal frames, hip straps, daisy chains and the like. The trouble is, you still have to take the bag off and set it down to access your camera. Worse, this means putting your bag down in potentially wet and/or muddy locations.

Mindshift is the outdoor division of camera bag brand Think Tank Photo, and they have created and interesting solution with their rotation180 range of bags. As the name suggests, the rotation180 series sees the camera insert attached to the hip belt which rotates around your waist, making your camera gear accessible quickly and without having to take your pack off.

Highlights

Mindshift-rotation180

Spin to win

Mindshift-rotation180

The rotation feature is completely unique to Mindshift’s bags and accessing your gear is as simple as unclipping a magnetic latch, pulling on the hip strap, opening the camera insert and shooting – it takes all of 15-seconds to do. The insert itself isn’t big, it only really fits a Canon 5DMKiii or similar with a lens attached and a spare short zoom lens or prime.

There is also a padded pocket for a small tablet as well as a velcro mesh pocket in the lid, perfect for spare batteries and cards.

Mindshift-rotation180

Mindshift-rotation180

The insert itself is burly with hard sides and you can remove it from the bag for use without the pack.

To prevent the insert from sliding out of the pack, there is a flap and the patented magnetic clasp affectionately called the Fidlock. The flap has a hard plastic rib which once unclasped opens on its own, and as a fail-safe, the insert also tethered to bag with a length of webbing.

Lugging the load

Mindshift-rotation180

While a lot of bags have interchangeable camera inserts, most take up the majority of the bag, however, with the Mindshift rotation180 Horizon you still have plenty of room for extra layers, water, food and other essentials. At the top of the pack, there is quite a large space to keep gear, as well as a laptop sleeve.

As I mentioned before the camera insert isn’t huge, and if you plan to take more than a body with a lens and a spare short lens, or need to bring a telephoto like the Canon 70-200 2.8 or Canon 100-400 MKii,  Mindshift’s Panorama insert is designed to fit perfectly in the top compartment. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of these but the insert from a Thule Perspektiv Daypack is roughly the same size and illustrates the point. 

Mindshift-rotation180

Mindshift-rotation180

On the front of the bag there is a decent sized pocket great for rain layers or other items you may not want to intermingle with the rest of your gear, as well as a top zippered pocket that is ideal for snacks, and smaller items.

The bag also sees a dedicated hydration bladder pocket on the side, which Mindshift says is designed around 3L reservoirs and is complete with a port for tubing. If you prefer to use water bottles over bladders there is also a bottle sleeve that comfortable fits a Nalgene.

If you plan to tote a tripod with you on your adventure, the bag features a clever suspension system that sees the tripod mounted on the back of the bag.

The pack also sees an internal frame, load lifters on the shoulder straps and sturdy webbing all around.

I’m looking forward to putting this bag through its paces over the next couple of months, be sure to check back for a full review once I’ve had the chance to get a bit of mud on it.

Where to buy

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Peak Design CapturePro Review

Colin
December 5, 2016

Your camera is no good to you if it’s buried deep in your backpack. Photography is all about capturing a fleeting moment, whether it be a skier just as he/she grabs their ski or the look of focus in a climbers eyes as they survey a problem.

For the most part, pro-DLSR’s are heavy and a little awkward to carry around, especially if you’re walking, climbing, or scrambling over obstacles and up steep inclines using your feet and hands. A camera around your neck or slung over your shoulder will move and swing around and smack into something.

Peak Design has come up with a clever solution to for keeping your camera at hand, the Capture. Basically, the Capture is a tripod plate that connects to the ‘clip’ which can be attached to pretty much any backpack strap, or belt.

The simple dual bolt design allows for your camera to be accessible at all times but mounted sturdy keeping your hands free.

Mounting

There’re a few models of the Capture, rated for different weights and designed to carry different camera systems. I tested the Capture Pro with my Canon 5d MKiii with various lens combos. Rated for up to 200lbs, the Capture Pro should be able to handle any camera and lens combo you’ve got, and 3/8th-inch tripod bolt will probably rip off out of the bottom of your camera body before it disconnects from the clip.

Attaching the clip itself is pretty simple too, undo the bolts, put the clip on your backpack strap or belt, and tighten the bolts. The bolt heads are textured around the edges large enough for you to get a good grip, the trouble is they’re not particularly long.

My main photo backpack is the F-Stop Tilopia BC, a 40-litre pack designed to carry heavy loads. With this comes thick shoulder straps, which proved to be too fat for the bolts included with the Capture Pro. Initially, I ended up mounting the clip on the load adjuster webbing, and to my pleasant surprise provided a sturdy mounting point.

Peak Design does make a long bolt kit, which as you’d imagine are two long bolts. The standard bolts measure 15mm and the long ones 23mm which did allow the Capture to engulf the strap on my bag Tilopa BC.

Utilizing the tripod bolt on your camera or lens shoe, the Capture Pro plate comes with a small alley key ensuring the plate is securely fastened to your camera.

Open Carry

I was hesitant at first to hang thousands of dollars worth of gear from something that costs less than US$100, but as time went on the Capture Pro proved its strength – the interface between the camera and the Capture Pro is unflappable. In fact, it takes some practice to smoothly clip and unclip the camera, in the first couple of weeks in use, I actually had to take my pack off to pull my camera out.

Once you’ve got the hang of it the camera to clip connection is strong, the trouble is what every the clip is attached to may not be. The inherent problem with this mounting system is whatever you’re attaching it to be it a backpack strap, belt or webbing is designed to conform around you in some way, and this flexibility with the right combination of forces pulls the clip out of whack.

I also found the Capture best suited to short zoom lenses. With something longer like my Canon 100-400 ii, there is just a bit too much weight a size to sit sturdy on a soft strap.

When you’re using the Capture Pro it’s also important to think about the weight distribution of your pack. For example, my Canon 5DMKiii with a Canon 24-104 f/4 lens attached weights 1.74kg. If I’ve had the Capture pro mounted on my left backpack strap, to somewhat balance the pack I’m going to want my tripod mounted on the right side of my pack, otherwise, your shoulders and neck will be super sore.

The Capture Pro’s mounting plate also interfaces with a fair few tripods as well, and even though it’s not actually designed to interface with the Pro Master Ball head it still works ans is stable enough for long exposures.

Final thoughts

The Capture Pro is an awesome camera carry option for being outdoors. It holds your camera study leaving your hands free but doesn’t allow for the swing like a standard camera strap. It has its limitations as for longer lenses it challenges the integrity of the mounting surface, but the plate holds strong

This is something I genuinely use almost every time I leave the house and is well worth the money.

Since I am a fan of this product I’ve set up a deal for my readers, use my coupon code ‘clevphoto’ and take 10% off any Peak Design Product.

Click here to buy from Peak Design

Click here to buy from Amazon

 

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